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U PF O R

PAIN TERO FLIGHT January 20 – February 27, 2016 Maria Bamford Ray Anthony Barrett Scott Marvel Cassidy Jeremy Couillard and Jordan Rathus Rachel Lord Jillian Mayer Ralph Pugay co-curated with Alicia Eler


IGNORING WITH PURPOSE by Theo Downes-Le Guin

With his death in 2012, Thomas Kinkade’s ability to bedevil the contemporary art world was greatly diminished. For many years prior, however, Kinkade regularly questioned the conventions of contemporary art to considerable populist effect. For the most part he was ignored by art historians, curators, collectors and contemporary artists. And while he is perhaps best known for making a lot of money from his art, he did so outside of the contemporary art market, bypassing conventional gallery and auction channels. Much of the art world’s ignoring of Kinkade is genuine. Just as Kinkade has ardent collectors and supporters, most in the art world are simply indifferent to him, or don’t connect over matters of technique, religious content or commercialism. For those of us who have a taste for institutional critique Kinkade is not so ignorable. He’s a good foil for discussions of how contemporary art is valorized and distributed, and how artists and artworks relate (or don’t relate) to the world they exist in. I accept that people might not want to evaluate Kinkade; but the idea that we can’t and shouldn’t evaluate him in art historical, critical or artistic terms, makes me want to do just that. To that end, artists in this exhibition were invited to respond to any aspect of Kinkade—the artworks, the man, the business, the public proclamations, the art world response—and in any way they wished, including (thanks to Maria Bamford) comedic poetry. I don’t know how art history will remember Thomas Kinkade. My guess is that he will be remembered by some art historians as a regional landscape painter. Others will focus on his “business art” or technical innovations in mass reproduction. And some will write him out of art history entirely. But I think the most interesting exploration of Kinkade may come not from art historians, but (at a much later date) from archaeologists. This is the profession that will have to unearth and interpret the mugs, calendars, inspirational books and framed prints, and decide whether those artifacts were part of our material culture or artistic culture, or whether those cultures, in our era, were even separable.


THE MCDONALD’S OF ART by Alicia Eler Thomas Kinkade is a commercial artist whose creations are entirely mainstream, easily experienced and consumed by anyone attracted to “the light.” Kinkade was shunned by the art world because of the rural idealism, Christianity and Romanticism inherent in his paintings. Rather than get angry, he decided to get even, and so he made his own art market rather than subscribe to the existing model. Even though he is the embodiment of art-turned-pure-capitalism, he still comes up as a topic of conversation in the fine art world today. We still aren’t sure how to discuss or name him — and maybe that’s okay. Thomas Kinkade was the inspiration for the exhibition Pain Tero Flight, co-curated by me and Upfor Gallery. We feature artworks by comedian Maria Bamford, artists Ray Anthony Barrett, Scott Marvel Cassidy, Rachel Lord, Jillian Mayer, Ralph Pugay, and (working collaboratively) Jeremy Couillard and Jordan Rathus. We decided to tackle, albeit with hesitation, some of the questions that Kinkade asked of anyone who categorizes his art as kitsch, mainstream, or lowbrow while also recognizing that he’s the most financially successful artist in the world. Kinkade referred to himself as the Painter of Light™, a clever marketing ploy on his part. Rather than wait for that title to be bestowed upon him, as happened with the British Romantic painter J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), Kinkade decided to name himself. He reversed the model of the art world, creating his own financially viable business, his own history and mythology rather than be a part of the art world and the canon of art history. Perhaps this is why art historians refer to Kinkade very differently from artists who participate in and are accepted by the art world. Kinkade’s output, as curator Linda Weintraub writes in her book In the Making: Creative Options for Contemporary Art, is nothing like a fine artist’s studio practice. He franchised 300 Thomas Kinkade Galleries rather than obtain gallery representation. In part because of this, Weintraub argues that he didn’t make art so much as he made product. “Kinkade is measurable according to standards set by


industry and commerce, not art…,” writes Weintraub. “The avant-garde dismisses Kinkade as sentimental, irrelevant to the serious world of art . . . he prefers the ‘homey’ to the sublime, the past to the present, the rural to the urban, the sensual to the intellectual, and the cheerful to the sorrowful.” Kinkade would never classify his art as kitsch—that would be demeaning. Instead, he preferred to imagine himself as a God-like character, once saying, “I own the hearts of people.” What Kinkade owns is not the hearts of people, but a fantasy of the world as he sees it—a dream world that resembles Santa’s Village on the North Pole or Disneyland. It’s an illusion so familiar because it’s an advertisement for what late capitalism promises — a lie so normalized it starts to feel true. But is that such a terrible illusion for any artist who wants to be known for their visual work and financially successful? What if Thomas Kinkade didn’t “sell out” so much as he “sold in”? On a strictly economic level, Kinkade set up a great business model for himself and his creative practice. In his later life, he spent much of his time in the studio, isolating himself from the business side so that he could create a handful of paintings a year. The model he established for the Thomas Kinkade Galleries isn’t unlike that of Jeff Koons or Mark Grotjahn. They mostly direct production, hiring assistants to create their artworks, which go for high prices at auction and within the gallery system. The main difference between Kinkade and artists like Koons or Grotjahn, however, is the markets in which their works are sold. Kinkade’s output doesn’t work within the art market, but that doesn’t mean it can’t touch those who see it — even if the sentiment is entirely sentimental.


MARIA BAMFORD Untitled 2015 Single channel digital video, running time 0:01:54, dimensions variable

THE WORK In Maria Bamford’s comedic story song about going to therapy with her husband, Scott Marvel Cassidy (also in this exhibition), she brings her irreverent perspective to a Thomas Kinkade painting. Through their journey in therapy, Scott and Maria both noticed that they keep forgetting their phones and the building code that they need to get into see the therapist, testing each others’ patience, as couples do. Once inside the therapist’s office, Maria notices a Kinkade painting, and pauses to recite some thoughts about its cultural relevance. He may be the “Painter of Light” and people make fun of him, she says, but his paintings are soothing to some. It seems that there’s no better place to experience a Kinkade than in this moment, as the tension is heightening between Scott and Maria. They’re not the only couple that has set foot into this office and witnessed the Kinkade, a representation of some strange idyllic world that doesn’t exist in our world. Maria’s observation in this moment suggests that if we look at the painting itself, beyond its purely capitalist motives, it actually is soothing because it is not trying, and never will try, to be anything aside from what it is. (by her friend Alicia Eler)

THE ARTIST Maria Bamford (b. 1970, Port Hueneme) is a comedian, writer and actress best-known for her portrayals of her dysfunctional family and self-deprecating jokes about depression and anxiety. Named one of the 50 Funniest People by Rolling Stone, notable appearances include two Comedy Central Presents specials and Netflix’s Comedians of Comedy: The Movie.


RAY ANTHONY BARRETT WHITE Lite 2015 oil on linen 36 x 48 inches

THE WORK WHITE Lite, a conceptual, post-minimal, pop, monochrome painting, in many ways represents everything Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light”, loathed about contemporary art. And yet, the piece formally functions as an homage—taking inspiration from the recently departed artist’s trademark moniker. That is, the retinal experience of the work is completely contingent on the interplay between light, the luminescent idiosyncrasies of oil paint, and the brushstrokes of the painter—of white lite brite. (The artist)

THE ARTIST Ray Anthony Barrett (b. 1980, Kansas City) mines literal meaning from vernacular language to make drawings, paintings, installations and interventions that interrogate the semiotics of representation. His work has been featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally, including Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennial in 2010. Barrett lives and works in Los Angeles, California.


SCOTT MARVEL CASSIDY Tracey in Backyard 2015 oil on canvas 13.5 x 17.25 inches

LA Landscape 2013 oil on canvas 4 x 3.5 feet

THE WORK In Scott Marvel Cassidy’s paintings, drawings and sculpture, it’s often times impossible to separate reality from a dreamlike state, or to differentiate the manufacture of a domesticity with the actual domestic life. Focused on intersecting themes of memory, the immediate physical environment, and the quandaries of referring to painting as purely “representational,” Cassidy’s painting, drawing and sculpture edge into territories of the uncanny and, at times, wormhole into the past. (Alicia Eler, from “Dreaming of the Real”)

THE ARTIST Scott Marvel Cassidy (b. 1963, Philadelphia) lives and works in Los Angeles, where the paintings he contributed to this exhibition are set. Cassidy studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and has exhibited widely in the Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York.


JEREMY COUILLARD AND JORDAN RATHUS I love you, you smell like gasoline 2016 single-channel digital video running time 0:20:00 edition of 5 +2 AP

THE WORK Taste {Les Parapluies de Cherbourg} Plymouth, MI Techno-hypnagogic landscape Sentimental (house by a river) Cheesy and incorrect use of light {Melodrama} A bridge American landscape vs. Digital landscape Christianity vs. Cyberpunk Wilcox Yeah that looks good (The artists)

THE ARTISTS Jeremy Couillard (b. 1980, Livonia) lives and works in New York. Couillard makes 3D animations, kinetic sculpture, 3D and 2D prints, paintings and installations. He has a BA from Michigan State University and MFA from Columbia University. He is a New Media professor in Queens. Jordan Rathus (b. 1983, Princeton) recontextualizes storytelling formats like narrative film and reality television to humorously and critically examine our collective contributions to pop culture. Rathus holds an MFA from Columbia University and BFA from New York University.


THOMAS KINKADE Main Street Courthouse 1995 framed, matted print signed by artist 25.5 x 34.5 inches framed

THE WORK Main Street, a place we, as children, would go to on Saturdays aboard bicycles that nearly flew as we pedaled down the dusty city streets towards our destination. (The artist)

THE ARTIST William Thomas Kinkade III (b. 1958, Sacramento, d. 2012) was an American painter known for his pastoral and idyllic subjects, which continue to be widely reproduced and licensed via The Thomas Kinkade Company under his trademark “Painter of Light.�


RACHEL LORD

Acona Jar (with Big Bubbles) 2013 digital print, acrylic on paper 28.75 x 26.75 inches framed

Xia Pot (with Busted Chuck) 2013 digital print, gouache on paper 28.75 x 26.75 inches framed

THE WORK Angry Birds Paintings are always comprised of two layers of cultural appropriation. Often Kinkade’s work incorporates text taken from sources like the Bible and the Pledge of Allegiance, and from these associations he gains much. His “God Bless America” series exemplifies this: reproductions of paintings of patriotic American architecture (like the Statue of Liberty, and the Capitol Building) on porcelain dishes with arcing text like “Liberty And Justice For All” and “United We Stand.” The Angry Birds Pots employ a similar schematic with a different “American architecture” as their base. Here I took a found object, a framed print of an appropriated image of a Xia Pot, from “The Silverman Museum” found at my Grandma’s house. I hacked into the frame, and painted on top, nearly obscuring the original image with a thrown Angry Bird. The conversation and compositions bear a striking resemblance. (The artist)

THE ARTIST Rachel Lord (b. 1986, Washington, DC) lives and works in Los Angeles. Working in series, she explores the connection between consciousness, confusion, and contemporary myth-making. Her Angry Birds Paintings use cultural appropriation in the context of kitsch and the sublime to illustrate the condition of the Western mind. She was recently included in Surround Audience, the 2015 New Museum Triennial. Lord holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.


JILLIAN MAYER Beautiful Landscape #1 2016 acrylic on canvas 48 x 60 inches

THE WORK Beautiful Landscape #1 is a reflection on the outdoors, beauty, leisure, and access, while considering Kinkade’s visual content in regards to his marketability. Kinkade often purposefully excluded human figures in his paintings while imagining extreme beautifully scenic environments. Here, I bring a person to the painting. In an imagined scenic environment, I create a self-portrait with my back towards the viewer, fully engaged with a laptop (echoing my real life practices), laying upon a bed of chroma green-screen grass. (The artist)

THE ARTIST Jillian Mayer (b. 1986, Fort Lauderdale) makes work that explores how technology affects our identities, lives and experiences. Through videos, online experiences, photography, telephone numbers, performance, sculpture, painting and installation, her work investigates the tension between physical and digital iterations of identity and existence. Her work shows nationally and internationally at galleries, museums, and film festivals. She is also part of the Borscht Corp, an open-source collaborative dedicated to telling Miami stories. Mayer lives in South Florida.


RALPH PUGAY

Oh Brother! Dog Park Sweat Mirror Jaron Lanier College Days

each digital drawing: 2016 archival pigment prints on paper editions of 5 + 2 AP 9 x 12 inches

THE WORK If there is anything that Thomas Kinkade and I have in common, it would be our love for images and ideas that imbue a certain type of sentimentality—the type that can remind us of the good old days, our family’s love, and somehow, also, our love for a Venti Frappucino. We see these tropes everywhere. We see them in our art, our movies, our politics, even in our ads for herpes medications. This set of five digital prints is inspired by the types of sentimental imagery that encourage us to mask our own feelings of ambivalence—images made with an iPad, whose hard aluminum casing and bright LCD display serve as a warm companion during those cold and lonely nights. (The artist)

THE ARTIST Ralph Pugay (b. 1983, Cavite, Phillipines) creates narrative artworks that juxtapose cultural norms and ideas, in ways simultaneously playful and unsettling. Pugay holds an MFA from Portland State University, was a Skowhegan Resident in 2013 and the 2014 Seattle Art Museum Betty Bowen Award winner. Recent solo exhibitions were held at the Seattle Art Museum, Upfor (Portland), Vox Populi (Philadelphia) and FAB Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond).


U P F OR 929 NW Flanders Street • Portland, OR 97209 • upforgallery.com

Pain Tero Flight  

This is an exhibition catalog for Pain Tero Flight, a group show co-curated with Alicia Eler and exhibited at Upfor Gallery in Portland, Ore...

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